Digital Reviewer

#EmptyShelf 2016 #17: Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs (Wiley, 2010)

inbound-marketing11Brian Halligan, Dharmesh Shah (Wiley, 2010 – with a newer version from 2014), cofounders of Hubspot.


The foreword is (again) written by David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR, in which he describe us a ‘living in a revolution in the way people communicate’ (something that anyone who’s been on Medialit with me will know I would put a question mark after revolution!)

We start at Google or another search engine and we tap our online network of friends, family members, and colleagues via email, instant messaging, chat rooms, Facebook and Twitter.

We used to pay attention to companies with big budgets and glitzy TV ads, now we pay attention to the ones with great web content.

If you have a story, you can command an audience online, publish engaging and useful information on the web, and deliver it exactly when people are interested. This requires an investment of your time and creativity.


Brian’s first year out of MIT, he was working with a number of start-ups, and noticed that customers were getting better and better at ignoring marketing ‘interruptions’. Dharmesh meantime was at MIT working on PhD thesis, including looking at way to pull users in from Googles, blogs and social media, rather than interruption, and discovered how to ‘get found’.. because ‘consumers were now in control’. Describing ‘interruption marketing’ as outbound marketing, Hubspot focused on inbound marketing – requiring rethinking from the bottom-up – using Hubspot as a ‘petri dish’ for testing out ideas, and used this book as a very practical guide.

Chapter 1: Shopping has changes… has your marketing?

“The fundamental task of marketers is to spread the word about their products and services in order to get people to buy them.” (p3)

Tried and tested techniques are no longer effective – e.g. average open rate for emails dropped from 39% in 2004 to 22% in 2008.

The primary place that people seem to be found now is search engines, the blogosphere, and the social mediasphere. Organisations now need to match the way they market products with the way your customer prospects learn about and shop for your products.

Obama has been known as the social-media president – up again Hillary Clinton and her big budget, Obama – little known and a long-shot prospect, had to rely on a range of social media techniques. Obama hired an Internet Strategist, Chris Hughes (a co-founder of Facebook):

… help individuals understand the values of Barack Obama and of our campaign and then to make it as easy as possible for them to actively engage with the campaign’s work. We tried to open as many direct channels of communication as possible – using e-mail, text messages, online networks – and then equip them with the tools to spread the campaign’s message using networking technology such as and Facebook.

Search marketing was undertaken effectively, Facebook widgets allowed users to register to vote, and Twitter was used to undertake conversations with constituents, whereas John McCain talked ‘at’ his. In 2009, I produced this diagram for ‘Super Fun Days Out’, a startup I was working on, for how we might use this ‘new’ social media for business:

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Chapter 2: Is Your Web Site a Marketing Hub?

Many companies use ‘brochureware’ websites, rather than making use of the possibilities of digital technology. Most sites have no information to compel users to stay – merely sales pitches!

Too many companies treat the website as a separate space – creating more activity off site, will drive people back to the online space. Your website = the hub, everything else is the equivalent of freeways/rail networks, etc. “turns your web site into a magnetic hub for your industry that pulls people in.”

The book highlights the importance of the RSS reader – sending an email to every user when there is new content on the site [although I’d think many users now find content solely via social media, etc. and have been unsubscribing from emails]

On p16, see this diagram – the story continues to look at how progess is measured, including links back to your website via a strong keyword strategy:

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Chapter 3: Are You Worthy?

Drawing on Seth Godin, need to consider whether “your product or service is worthy of other people’s ‘remarks’”, or see Benjamin Franklin. One of their tutors used to say “Watch your competitors, but don’t follow them.” For example Apple in creating their first MP3 player ignored the ‘rules’ of the industry that machines focused on feature richness, but therefore could only be used by technies – they instead created a much simpler device they tapped into a new market.

The authors also emphasise the need to be the best at what you do – if necessary defining your market more narrowly – go narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow.

Chapter 4: Create Remarkable Content

The most remarkable content attracts links from other websites pointing to your site – bringing you traffic not only from that site, but from Google who sees that signal as a point in your favour. Remarkable content also spreads well, and because it remains online, continues to work for you without extra cost (and note that if you write on other sites such as Wikipedia which always have high traffic, that’s a source of good links).

Look to produce a variety of content – text, visual, audio, interactive – and note that ‘the more you give, the more you get’.

Create, optimise, publish and market content, then measure what is working/not working. If you’re the right kind of business, consider whether you could set up a specialist wiki for your industry.

Much of the rest of the book is very practically focused – a number of the hints and tips are still relevant, but I’m more interested in the general principles – and the second edition probably provides more up to date content!

Buy the book (or 2nd edition)

Digital Reviewer

#EmptyShelf 2016 #16: Content Rules: How to create killer blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, webinars (and more) that engage customers, and ignite your business. (Wiley, 2012)

Ann Handley & C.C.Chapman, Wiley, 2012



The foreword is written by David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR, who highlights that ‘marketing is about publishing great content’, but so often the focus is on the design, and the content is an afterthought. This book is designed to help organisations ‘tell great stories’ to engage their customers – past, present and future. Sadly, he feels, most marketing produced these days is classic propaganda – “here’s our product, here’s some customers who say it’s great, now buy some”, rather than content driven stories as interesting as novels, etc.


Working in content marketing is like having a baby – there’s an ongoing responsibility for any organisation. On pxix, there’s a diagram indicating the benchmarks for 2012 budget spend:

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On pxxii-xxiii we look at the need for ‘some rules’, but not a rigid formula. We look at the struggles to write, at being faced with the blank page, but it is emphasised that there is no rigid formula – just a number of rules on the need to write well.

As content creators, we understand the anxiety surrounding publishing your writing for others to read. We’re in the clarity business, simplifying people’s convoluted ideas and wrestling their wild, out-of-control text into something more civilised and comprehensible.

Text that is used needs to be user-friendly

It’s awesome to have the ability to connect to customers and would-be customers in a language they understand. It’s surprisingly satisfying to spark a direct dialogue with them. It allows you to look at things from your customers’ points of view and inspires you to create content that will resonate with them.

People visiting your site may be confused, nervous, and language that invites and demystifies your products, etc. will all help you connect with visitors.

Chapter 1: The Case for Content

The book starts with a story – practices what it preaches – a direct connection with the reader, as we hear how Ann’s buying process for a camera has changed from magazines, buying guides, shops, to browsing camera makers, consulted friends and followers online, and somehow, the CMO for Kodak spotted the query and invited ‘any questions’. Clearly he can’t reach out to all customers, but rather than waiting to be featured in print mags, people at all levels of the company can connect direct with potential/current consumers.

The need for ‘killer content’ is to convert browsers into buyers, and customers into regular buyers, or even better – fans, ambassadors and advocates. Deepen the relationship over time by “repeatedly and consistently creating content they care about and want to share freely with their friends or colleagues; and by encouraging them to engage with you and to sign up for things you publish (for example, an email newsletter or a webinar) or to download a white paper or an e-book.”

On p11, we make note of ‘Long-tail keyword search’, and the importance of knowing your niche – what exactly will people be searching for – because the closer you can get – the more likely you are to buy.

Chapter 2: The Content Rules

The Content Rules are good, and much of the book goes into detail about what these are, but I’ll just share the summary here:

  1. Embrace that you are a publisher (not just a seller)
  2. Insight inspires originality (get your brand story straight, know what your customers care about)
  3. Build momentum (Understand the objective for each piece of content à what action should it lead to)
  4. Speak human (use the language of your customers, conversationally – kill corporate speak)
  5. Reimagine, don’t recycle (when first creating content imagine different ways of using it, rather than recycling as an afterthought)
  6. Share or solve, don’t shill (don’t try to sell – create value in sharing, make yourself a go-to for quality information)
  7. Show, don’t just tell (no preaching or hard-sell – demonstrates through case studies or client narratives – explains in human times how adds value to their lives – don’t make it up – tell a true story well)
  8. Do something unexpected (surprises drive viral sharing, and enhance organisation’s personality)
  9. Stoke the campfire (encourage conversations between customers and yourself/customers)
  10. Create wings & roots (ground your content solidly in brand values, but allow it to spread across the web without restrictions)
  11. Play to your strengths (You don’t have to do everything, but do at least one thing, really, really well)

Chapter 3: Insight Inspires Originality

Good content strategy is like good journalism. Focus on the why (goals), who (are they/you), what (want to achieve), when/how (develop content) and where (to publish).

Think about what success looks like, and see whether that can be quantified in some way (whether numerical or subjective).

Chapter 4: Who are You?

Understand yourself, then focus on content first, THEN design. The design/flow of anything should be driven by the content, and the goals of the content – this is something we summarised in a 2001/2 research project.

The book look at the ‘The Incredibly Boring Web Content Challenge’ that was (last) run in 2010, and noted that most of these sites were devoid of personality and tone-of voice.

Recognise that you are dealing with a range of users – don’t lump them all into one. Think about the range of users and potential users, e.g. a library (p43):

  • Access collections online/in person
  • People who live in neighbouring communities
  • Other libraries that borrow from collection
  • Supporters/Friends/donators
  • Local community groups
  • Public school teachers
  • Genealogy researchers
  • Nonprofits that use rooms
  • Parents of those whose children visit the library
  • Teenagers who hang out and participate in activities
  • Other locals who live in the community.

On pp51-54, we are encouraged to be human, and to avoid over-used or mis-used words, because “they make you sound like a tool” (e.g. leverage, synergy, revolutionary, etc.)

Chapter 5: Reimagine: Don’t Recycle

View all content as part of a bigger whole, think about how you are going to schedule content, think about how you can re-use existing materials, but ensure that they are fit for purpose.

Chapter 6: Share or Solve: Don’t Shill

Create value – be a valuable source of information that customers want to know. Look for that information to be ‘brand conscious’. Find content and take responsibility for sharing it.

Chapter 7: Stoke the Campfire

Create shareable content and join conversations. Remember that ‘less is more’, we want engagement, but preferably (even if long-term), a sale.

Chapter 10: Attention B2B Companies

The content rules apply across the board, but B2B is a unique challenge. There are team buyers, who are research focused, and tend to approach you late in the buying cycle. They need to be able to find the information they want WHEN they need it. Understand the nuances of your audience and their questions – what keeps them awake at night?

Think about whether you need people to register for content. What will put people off? How much will you actually follow up? How much understanding do you have/need of the downloadee?

Chapter 12: Webinars, Why do most of them suck?

P157 highlights how webinars could be good, and why they so often go wrong. They offer the opportunity to feel more ‘alive’ than papers, because the speaker can be seen, they can be interactive and social, are less pressurised than a call from the sales team, are affordable, are broad-reaching, are geographically neutral, can be part of the wider mix, are effective (coming second only to referrals), and open the doors to new prospects.

They often go wrong when they are focused too much on lead-generation, rather than giving valuable content, or speakers don’t understand the difference between presenting online and giving a live speech, and risk-assessments (inc technological failure) are not assessed.

Chapter 13: What’s the difference between an e-book and a white paper?

See p172 for diagram, and p173 for reasons why these might be useful:

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If you haven’t got a story to tell, depend upon impulse buys, compete on price rather than quality, sell material that doesn’t require customer research, or won’t promote the finished product – then these deep materials won’t work for you.

Chapter 14: Creating a compelling customer success story

Give some fundamental facts, highlight the challenge focusing on the human story, demonstrate how you offer the solution, and show how the client lived happily ever after. Imagine your content in a range of media – instead of or in addition to straight text.

Chapter 15: From Dumpy to Sexy

On p189 we are reminded not to forget

The .. FAQs pages are the unsung heroes of your company website. Often unappreciated and undervalued, they can nevertheless play an essential role. What’s more, they can often help easily and succinctly communicate your brand value to would-be buyers, enticing them to take a close look at what you have to offer.

If people are already looking for the answers on your company’s website, then chances are they are already thinking of doing business with your company – FAQs can help build trust, educate customers, and build a relationship. It is key to write answers, not fall into the trap of product descriptions. Don’t be afraid to answer the tough questions, e.g. questions about price!

There’s lots of real-world examples and case studies in this book, and much of the information is still relevant, even four years later. Consider buying the book.

Digital Reviewer

#EmptyShelf 2016 #15: The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines and Templates for Getting Content Right (New Riders, 2015)


Meghan Casey, New Riders, 2015

The foreword for this book is written by Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, and the two books work well together.

In her introduction Casey gives a useful working definition:

Content strategy helps organisations provide the right content, to the right people, at the right times, for the right reasons.

This is a much more tool-focused book than the other book, with many tables, and strategies to follow. It encourages us to look at what’s wrong, and to seek out where the opportunities are. Gov.UK undertook a simple user test for their site (via @petegale):

  1. Choose key pages from the site, print off for participants/you
  2. Ask participants to read content
    1. Highlight in green content that makes them feel confident, smart and ready to act
    2. Highlight in red content that makes them feel less confidence, confused or hesitant
  3. With a clean copy, highlight everything participants did in corresponding colours
  4. Look at the intensity of green/red highlights to see what is working, and what needs work (especially the repeated areas).

Also on p9:

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A content audit is key, analytics needs checking, and user testing needs to be undertaken to understand what makes the user feel confident.

Remember that everyone involved in the content creation process likely has good intentions and is trying to do good work within their skills level, and all processes/tools were devised to solve the problem in hand. Remember that in considering this content you are dealing with human beings – focus instead on “Help me understand why you do it this way” so that can move forward from there.

Those that need to persuaded will be helped to understand if the need is quantified – for example, if information is hard to find on the intranet/internet, it can cost hours in staff time to find this information – searching or answering calls. If this information is restructured using a content strategy, the gains can be quantified easily in time/cost savings. Identify the risk and potential gain, but recognise that there is a cost to cultural change.

Create a stakeholder matrix which identifies roles/types, including project owner, decision maker, influencer, champion, derailer, strategic, expert, implementer, user proxy. Record how you’d like to get information from them, make notes about topics, concerns and your pitch. Think how you’re going to engage with them, which specific questions, and note key themes.

On p40 – see the sample agenda for meetings – don’t skimp on the introductions

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P43 summarises a key kick-off emails, ensure personalised – introduce self, give a project overview, indicate why it is key that they are involved, and summarise the focus/timing of the workshop. Need to work through – and the book gives a lot of hints and tips for how to do this, with a focus on persuasion tactics:


See p55 – the importance of a clear strategy/timeline, the importance of project management:

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Casey highlights how to undertake interviews, and identifies the internal and external factors that are important related to content strategy.

Internal factors are more easily controlled, and typically relate to products, costs, desired customers and revenue.

External factors are more complex and include competitors, legal compliance, current events, and customers.

Casey focuses on the importance of market research and user research, including the identification of psychographic drivers.

A useful exercise is to encourage users to think about a website that they’ve used, and identified where they were frustrated, satisfied or delighted – then encourage themselves to put themselves in the users shoes. Undertake a brainstorm, name the user/persona, create a user story – write a scenario including what the user is thinking, feeling, seeing and doing en route. See p89:


Research with real users is even better, but the above is often a good starting point.

Undertake a content audit – including name, location, history, status, audience, purpose, traffic, whether to include in the analysis and any further notes. It may then be useful to create a ‘map’ of the ecosystem – know how your content cross-links and supports each other (and fits with the user journey). See p98

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The content strategy needs to be really clear (p110):

Commonly, content problems are symptoms of a lack of clarity around what work to do, who should do it, and what is realistic to accomplish.

If the website is a dumping ground for all content, organised by business units, a front page with a welcome from the CEO, a homepage with unrelated content from all over the business, a new section is being launched without any clarity of content source, blog post off-brand but no one wants to say take it down, HR launched a microsite because they didn’t want to wait, get emails from 2 different colleagues/managers about the same thing, your team is expected to do twice the work possible and it’s all top priority… all of these indicate that roles and responsibilities need to be much more clearly defined, and a focus on management planning is also needed.

On p119 we see a useful diagram for content planning, publishing and maintenance:

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A strategic alignment summary is required, ensuring that content is clearly aligned to business goals, producing a document something like this (note that it’s not overwhelming, and has clear priorities aligned to awareness, conversion and retention) – p124:

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On p138, we understand how to create a core strategy statement, which is useful for all budgets (and none).

  1. Content product: What content should be produce, procure, curate, and share?
  2. Audience: Who, specifically, is that content for?
  3. User needs: Why do those audiences need or expect that content from us?
  4. Business goals: What outcomes does providing this content help us achieve?

On p140, Casey suggests a table with ideas for consideration. Ideas such as ‘Repurpose word-for-word content from the customer service call center knowledge base’, with Yes/No to tick after discussion/analysis.

On p148, we return to the business goals and content objectives on p124, and start looking at KPIS, objectives and metrics that need to be measured, and some possible ways to measure (including analytics, heuristic assessments (measure against best practices) – e.g. p.152

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Where possible, undertake frequent surveys of your users, using tools such as

On p156, we move to measuring content effectiveness, which is often subjective – but we are dealing with humans, so not everything can be objective. Reports need to be pulled together and given to appropriate stakeholders, a simple scorecard, like this one on p.158:

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Moving onto designing your content, the focus needs to whittle down to what is really necessary to include, so that it’s easier to manage, find and use.

P163 has a useful diagram for user scenarios:

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All website content has structure – on p169 a layout of a simple blog post is given to highlight e.g. title, introduction, byline, etc. Read Sara Whacter-Boettcher Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content for more.

Ensure that all user tasks are clear and aligned to business goals, see. P175 for an e.g. from a cancer charity:

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Think back to p119, and think through how you will assign people to each step.

On p202, we move onto thinking about the content lifecycle, and how this involves strategise, plan, create, maintain, audit, strategise, etc. On p207 we have a diagram that highlights how to do this:

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On p210/211, we have a couple of simple diagrams which assess how to devise priority.

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There’s a lot more practical advice in this book, take the opportunity to buy the book.

Digital Reviewer

#EmptyShelf 2016 #14: Content Strategy for the Web (New Riders, 2012)


Kristina Halvorson, Melissa Rach. New Riders, 2012 (2nd Edn)


There’s a foreword to this book by Sarah Cancilla, Content Strategist, Facebook. Back in 2009, Facebook was growing, but far from perfect – huge amounts of content meant confused and frustrated users – who were then walking away from the brand. Cancilla, on going for the interview, read the first edition of this book, and was hired on the strength of it. Many saw ‘content strategist’ as the same as ‘copy editor’ – that, however, deals with the details, whereas this should be looking holistically and methodologically at content across the board. In an organisation that preferred action over talk, Cancilla had to produce some easy wins – dealing with a small area of content which allowed users to invite friends to Facebook, tiny improvements soon demonstrated a big difference – 56% improvement in net traffic to the area – equating to 6 million extra users finding friends. Those quick wins were important to persuade those higher up to allow bigger changes, and Cancilla was careful to use the language of those she was seeking to persuade, framing requests within larger Facebook strategies for leaders, empirical results for engineers, and visual for designers.

Soon, people started to solicit my help on more complex problems. Questions about tone, structure and site-wide consistency began to outnumber those about grammar and syntax. The company began giving enthusiastic support (and budget) for longer-term, content-driven initiatives.

By 2012, there were 9 content-strategists at Facebook, with more expected, and content-standards sitewide were being developed. The notion of content strategist has grown globally, as the notion of it has been demystified, and senior executives have understood its value.


When the first edition was written in 2009, this was a niche industry, but by 2012, was a huge industry. The book focuses particularly on the practical ‘why’. A content strategist may take on many hats, but here, we focus upon strategy – for every medium, every platform, every device. There’s a note that content is not just text, but video, audio – and also e.g. product information, investor reports and press releases. Companies have always had this information, but the development of organisational websites highlighted the deficiency in organisational content strategy.


There’s a panic for some about content … and the book challenges a more proactive stance, rather than reactive. It suggests:

  • Get moving
  • Aim for less, not more
  • Look for what you already have/could source
  • Listen
  • Ensure accountability

Most businesses believe that more content enables hitting more sales objectives, but all content must support key business objectives, and fulfil user’s needs – and organisations are encouraged to lose the rest – because everything that is there needs to be maintained.

A key focus needs to be built around the calendar. The first act is to audit pre-existing content and consider quantitatively what is there and qualitatively whether it’s any good.

Organisations need to listen to their colleagues and to their users. The content strategist should not assume that they know the answers to all the questions. Colleagues can tell you what FAQs they get, and highlight business needs. Users can tell you the kind of information that they want and need.

The harder you listen, the better you’ll understand the rationale, politics, emotions, and motivations behind the reasons content-related decisions are (or aren’t) being made. After all, you’re not creating plans for some alternate reality in which everything perfectly unfolds according to The Strategy. You’re planning for human beings and their ever-shifting needs and desires – also known as the real world.

Ensure that someone is ‘in charge’ – they don’t have sole responsibility, but as with a newspaper, they are the editor-in-chief. Find somewhere small to smart. Content is often the last thing people see as important – an afterthought, rather than a key asset that needs consideration.

In digital spaces you get one (first) chance with visitors. Content is not a commodity – it’s an asset, but many businesses don’t give it real resources, use poor syndicated content, focus on volume of content, or relies upon user-generated content without any expectations of hard work. The communication of the value of this content takes both time and resources.

So many businesses do content without thinking and planning it. Why? It is not copywriting (find tune editing at the end of the process), but needs to be integral to the overall strategy. Content can also be very political – there are many people’s needs who need to be satisfied (e.g. owners, information architects, marketing, legal and CMS) – a solid content strategy makes this easier to manage. See p24:

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Content needs to regarded as a valuable business asset. Its goal is to serve the organisation and users. Organisations need to prioritise which initiatives to follow, then streamline for efficiency.

Content is … strategy, comprised for creation, delivery and governance – giving the directional lead. Sometimes that strategy is editorial, structural or technical, and sometimes it is high-level business strategies. A focus on the tools is a focus on tactics, not on strategy.

Four Areas:

  1. Substance: What kinds of content do we need (topics, types, sources, etc.)? What messages does content need to communicate to our audience?
  2. Structure: How is content prioritised, organised, formatted, and displayed? (Structure can include IA, metadata, data modelling, linking strategies, etc.)
  3. Workflow: What processes, tools, and human resources are required for content initiatives to launch successfully and maintain ongoing quality?
  4. Governance: How are key decisions about content and content strategy made? How are changes initiated and communicated?


Finding the connection between real people and real content components is key.

The importance of showing, not telling, to persuade is of key importance. The values evident in branding should inform content; web writing translates into IA, metadata and a content inventory, then there a whole lot of more specialist roles.


Content affects all areas of the organisation, so everyone needs to be on the same page. There needs to be common understanding, rather than consensus. Stakeholders need to be identified, convinced, kicked off, engaged and kept motivated. It’s more important to get people involved and on board from the start – far more important than the secrecy of a project. Stakeholders include: decision makers; funders; champions and influencers; political showstoppers and interested others. It’s not just about getting the managers involved, but the knowledgeable are more important.

To get people interested – need to find the story/hook,  including the problem/opportunity, the (business) urgency, a request for help,  description of participants, and the payoff/ROI. Do early research and then ask stakeholders to help fill in the gaps. In team sessions, introduce the project, introduce the people, set expectations for participation – with ongoing measurements/sharing, etc.

An audit helps saves money in the longer term, and can be referenced back to in making decisions (p50).

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Be clear on the goals for the audit – what/why, when, where, etc.

A quantitative audit simply describes the raw data that is available (technological tools could help collect this), whereas qualitative looks at the quality and effectiveness of content. Measurement means that the right details need to be collected for consistent data (sampling may be required). See p55:

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Effective recommendations need to be contextualised – by business goals, monetary constraints, user needs and competitor activities. External and internal factors need to be taken on board, and learnings communicated.

An early analysis saves ours of content creation, delivery and upkeep. Internal analysis involves listening to conversations – summarising the big themes and noting discrepancies. Different departments may have different stakeholders – need to define for each the messages to give and get from users. Identify pre-existing channels on which content you use – most organisations are using more than they realise, e.g. (p77)

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See p79 for what is important at different stages in the client lifecycle:

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The content strategist needs to be clear on who’s involved. A workflow is clear on who defines success at each stage and ensures legal compliance (p81).

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Be clear about your users – they have goals and expectations – if you don’t meet them, they go. You can’t make them do anything that they don’t want to! P83 outlines the importance of research, including analytics, testing, industry-wide research, interviews, and surveys.

In undertaking competitor analysis, don’t panic because they have what you don’t. You are seeking differentiation – but be clear why you are not if it is industry standard and you’re not doing it.

Look at your sources of information and seek to keep up to date. Identify who are your key influencers, including journals, forums, media, bloggers and social media.


The core strategy needs to be clear, team-driven and consistent. Consider what you want to achieve – how does the content help accomplish that, what do you want to be – what content products will you create … and what does the organisation need to do to support this effort.

Be aspirational and therefore inspirational – no one wants to work towards “let’s make our product content slightly less crappy”. There’s a need to be creative, which can be difficult in a business world of deliverables. Look for an informal, memorable statement (e.g. p101)

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Ensure you have parameters and priorities about who your content is for – be very specific about user groups (prospective, existing, which products, etc.). Create personas – basic bulleted lists are fine. Prioritise – with no ‘ties’ for positioning – and be prepared to negotiate this list!

Be key about the message that you want users to walk away with – core, secondary and details. See how all support the core message. The theme needs to be there – doesn’t necessarily need to be word-for-word. Create a topic map, and be clear that each area serves different needs. Content has different purposes (persuasion, information, validation, instruction or entertainment) – be clear which is which, and ensure that tone of voice gives the brand a personality.

Look at the range of content that is possible:

  • Original (valuable)
  • Co-created (influencers)
  • Aggregated (care with this)
  • Curated (themed/chosen)
  • Licences (care with dilution of good content)
  • User-generated (needs management)

Understand what content is key, as you’ll never publish everything you think of. Think about whether it’s required (legally/politically), who’s it going to reach, how relevant is it, how valuable/unique is content and how will affect revenue?

Thinking about whose job is whose – IA works on structure and functionality, content strategist works on the overall story and page-by-page details. Look at channel, platform and format. Think – where do your customers want you to be? Naming of different elements of the site is key in supporting the core messages. Links = give a lot of direction, microcopy affects contextual usability.

Structured content needs to be available for re-use – ensure that separate content and form. Metadata = supports content aims and findability. Sitemaps, wireframes and page tables are important.

Who owns the data, shared across different departments, but ensure that there is a central team. Roles include web-editor-in=chief, web manager, content creator, sourcing curator, SEO, subject matter expert and reviewer/approver.

An advisory council is important, especially for the transition stage – around 3 members could work. The audience voice is especially useful for voluntary organisations.

The workflow is circular – create/source/maintain and evaluate content. Requires editorial calendar, content requirements checklist, curation checklist, and migration spreadsheet. Ensure governance and documenting processes is clear.


To win over the CEO, need to speak up about what is required, and keep dropping the subject into the conversation. Focus on the efficiency games, identify that the competition is doing it, and show the hard data. Have a clear focus on budget – if necessary start small with a pilot project, and be clear about what is needed/why/potential ROI.

Rather than never being invited back to parties, p172 highlights how one can describe what one’s role is:

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Content always needs to be first (avoid the lorem ipsum text). Remember that a lot of this is not obvious/ordinary to others, so share, speak and blog about it, but more of all do it!

For more detail, buy the book.

Digital Reviewer

#EmptyShelf 2016 #12: Valuable Content Marketing: How to Make Quality Content Your Key to Success Sonja Jefferson, Sharon Tanton (Kogan Page, 2013)

New-VCM-cover-2-200x300This book has not said anything that I’ve found particularly new, but says it all very well. I nodded a lot at the practical guidelines given, which both encourages and challenges readers to think about what they should be doing with regards to content marketing.

Don’t every try and sell me on anything. Give me ALL the information and I’ll make my own decision. Kanye West (Tweet)

The authors seek to challenge what Doug Kessler suggests many have made appear as a ‘black art’. In the foreword he says “Content marketing is very simple: use your expertise to help your prospects do their jobs. Work hard to add value in every piece you produce. Be generous. And earn attention by injecting passion, attitude and energy.” Produce content that people actually want to consume.


As the authors lay out in the introduction – there’s a lot of information out there, but there are opportunities to new connections – sharing content that people need, want and appreciate, which will mean that they will give you time, attention and support, and do social sharing on your behalf. ‘Content marketing’ is a term that has become mainstream since 2012.

Content marketing looks for businesses that have their customers best interests at heart, seeks for ways of connecting (marketing) that feels natural, demonstrates that you care deeply about your customers. Look for ways to step away from poor marketing techniques (interruption, irrelevant, cold calling, spam) and find content that people truly love.

The book’s mantra “Help don’t sell, show don’t tell, talk don’t yell.” (See more:

Chapter 1: Introduction

Marketing is no longer about stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell. Seth Godin

People buy very differently these days, so marketers need to sell differently. People tend to research online, search Google (so you need to be found), want to know that a business can be trusted, and seek recommendations from social networks, so businesses need to demonstrate empathy, purpose and usefulness – not shouting loudest. (p10)

The points that rose for me in this chapter were that we can’t do identikit marketing, the customer journey has changed – but many businesses are still using old marketing methods, and a question I ask my clients – what is the cost of not doing this?

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less. General Eric Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, US Army.

We need to understand that today’s buyers are discerning and cynical buyers behave differently, and see this as an opportunity for change. How do we raise brand awareness, convert and retain using new methods when the old methods of mass cold calling fail, emails remain unopened, press advertising is costly, trade shows are costly, and the old networking methods don’t work. It’s not ‘black magic’ but it takes time too – think, listen and mindmap!

So, whilst the economy remains tough, who is still winning at this game – getting good leads, expanded networks, warm referrals, and with clients/customers calling them. These companies are focusing on producing/providing and giving away valuable quality, content, which is consistent and relevant (presentations, blogs, guides, infographics, videos, slidedecks, etc.), with a clear idea of audience, have a strong brand identity, good stories to tell, customer-focused, have built goodwill and awareness so that they are ‘known’ and trusted by potential clients before those customers are ready to buy (and be aware the lead-cycle can be quite some time). This material is active and ongoing – not restricted to random campaigns a couple of times a year.

[p17: buyer behaviour]

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By the time sales people are connected with the buyer, around 60% of the buying process has already passed, in searching online, and talking to friends. There’s a real opportunity for companies to tell their own stories their own ways, rather than having to fight with paid media… but this digital footprint needs to be consistent across platforms, and allow easy word-of-mouth referrals.

Far too many marketing messages have become self-serving – which is when marketing becomes untrusted. Companies need to regain that trust – by focusing on their audience. Don’t tell others how great you are, show them via your usefulness, authenticity and humanity. Often obvious manipulation, such as ‘buy now before sold out’ will lose customers rather than gain them.

Educate or entertain your buyers, show them best practice, tell them what to look out for, give them valuable tips on how to achieve success, demonstrate how you’ve helped others in their shoes. Answer their questions and solve their problems, open their eyes. Creating and distributing this kind of relevant, valuable and compelling information will help you turn prospects into buyers and buyers into long-term fans.

Chapter 2: What is valuable content and why does it win you business?

You can buy, beg or bug people for attention – or you can earn it – a very human approach to doing business, that we will all have seen.

[p23 – Defining valuable content]

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Valuable content is … Valuable content isn’t…
Relevant Vague – no sense of who this is aimed at
Written with a real person/people in mind Written without a grasp of the person who will be reading it
Answering a genuine question – it’s what people are looking for Inward looking – doesn’t answer a real question – the so what? factor?
In line with your business goals Not aligned with your business aims
Well designed Looks shabby, hard to read/watch/listen to
Findable No one can find it
Shareable Hard to share
Created in a spirit of generosity Created with a cynical mindset
Unputdownable – this is fantastic! Unpickupable – I can’t be bothered to look at this


[p25] Business content that works best is helpful, entertaining, authentic, relevant and timely. [My experience vulnerable or humourous really works.] Looking for content that will be read, shared and acted upon.

The content I regard as valuable is: useful and functional – gives me answers; beautiful and entertaining – gives me pleasure. I thas to do at least one of those things. If it does both, I consider subscribing. Jane Northcote

P27 Looks at Be-Ro recipe books ( from the 1920s – demonstrating that everything but nothing has changed.

8 Reasons to love valuable content marketing

  1. You get found (if it’s not online, it can’t be found)
  2. You build your reputation (sense of community, referrals are strong)
  3. You become likeable (all about the tone – people trust those they like)
  4. You become trustworthy (share content without asking anything in return)
  5. You become memorable (bigger the purchase, the longer people take, need trust)
  6. Your business clearly differentiates (quality content, niche audience)
  7. Your marketing investment stands the test of time (material stays online for a long time, generating leads)
  8. You feel good (once you get past notions of ‘marketing’, start to enjoy being helpful)

Chapter 3: Guiding Principles for Your Valuable Content

8 fundamental principles:

  1. Put your customers first (they don’t care about you til they know you care about them – use 80% useful content; 20% sales)
  2. Help, don’t sell (be good citizens online – think of others, be helpful, don’t interrupt, don’t annoy, be generous, smile, work together, say thank you!) Dealing with real people
  3. Give ideas away generously, for free (See Nathali Nahai – – if people give us something for free, we feel hard-wired to give back – seems counter-intuitive in a profit-making world, but it’s an investment that count s
  4. Always know why (what’s the purpose of each piece of content – for customer, for your business)
  5. Think niche (understand your market/service/customers – stand out as a specialist [always remember from Rachel Collinson] – too general and are nothing to anybody)
  6. Tell a bigger story (good marketing has always been about telling good stories – know what you stand for)
  7. Commit to quality (quantity is good, but quality is more important)
  8. Write from the heart (authenticity, genuineness and sincerity can’t be faked – care – and have a good product that you believe in!)

Part 2 (chapters 4-10)

This section of the book goes through blogging, social media, email newsletters, search engine optimisation, deeper written content (including e-books), video, audio, infographics, and considers PR, guest blogging, events and paid advertising. They look at why, how, when – with lots of advice on best practice and case studies.

Part 3

This section is ‘for those who are ready to get serious about their content’, and want to move beyond using the tools, and having a clear strategy for use. If new, it’s a research-led approach, enabling you to position yourself as a thought leader in the field, whereas if not new – a chance to step back, and work out how to make it work better…. Focusing on why, who, what, when, where and how… and this all needs to be documented as a frame of reference to return to.

The content strategy process:

  1. Get clear on your goals (where do you want to be (and how far are you from it), set SMART goals)
  2. Know your business (ensure content not only meets the needs of your customers, but of your business too)
  3. Know your customers (ensure you know who they are, through research, not through guessing – survey them, ask them, talk to them, listen to the words they use, thank them; create personas – what are the questions people are asking when researching, when evaluating, and once they are a customer)
  4. Find your story (know why you do what you do, focus on emotion, be customer-centric, can you sum up your purpose as if it was a book title … this won’t happen instantly)
  5. ‘Your content sweet spot and vision’ (what are you uniquely positioned to talk about? What are the big topics that you can focus on?)
  6. Content commitment & plan (plan a content calendar across the year, prioritise your channels)
  7. Platform & tools (Once clear on your content, what tools will support that objective?)
  8. Organise (requires the right team, budget and good process, including knowing who takes responsibility, ensure there is senior buy-in, story and message are king, get the right people tell your story (range of roles), get everyone working together, not about quantity but getting the right audience)
  9. Measurement (meaningful measures that are aligned to business goals, track engagement and conversion, learn and adapt over time)
  10. Planning the change à actioning the change (conduct a content audit and gap analysis)

The remainder of the book continues to look at some of the practical steps, including evaluating the website (as the heart of the business), understanding how to write valuable content, understand how to sell using content, and how to plan for a steady stream of content production – including getting the whole team on board and engaged… plus a series of troubleshooting queries.

This book was provided to me courtesy of Kogan Page as a review copy for possible use with students. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

To purchase the book, try Kogan Page or Amazon.